Visit Fryslân: full guide to Friesland, the best hidden gem in the Netherlands

Table of Contents

Introduction to Fryslân

Few people will have heard of Fryslân, much less want to visit Fryslân! Actually Fryslân (or its anglicised name: Friesland) is actually quite famous (in its adjectival form!) for something you will have heard of: cows. Frisian cows are perhaps the most popular breed of dairy cow, and account for 61% of dairy cows in the UK!

While travelling through Africa, we made a good friend from Fryslân, and we decided it would be a great opportunity to visit this unique place. Our friend was quite a character and had a lot of stories from his homeland. Besides anything, he assured us that this was the best region of the Netherlands. Of course, our interest was piqued, and we knew we had to see for ourselves.

Before this trip, of course we had been to the Netherlands before, but only to Amsterdam and the surrounding areas. It felt strange to have been to the Netherlands so many times (four times for me and twice for Murray!) and never visited any areas outside of the capital city! We decided it was time to explore further.

A canal in Fryslân with lots of local neighbourhood houses and a church at the end.
Many houses in Fryslân are set directly on the waterways

About Fryslân

Fryslân is a really unique area of the Netherlands. Interestingly, most of the people we spoke to actually considered Fryslân to be separate from the Netherlands. We did look up the history and current affairs, and while that does seem to be the general feel, there isn’t currently any movement to make Fryslân a separate country. Europolitika sums it up really nicely: Frisians ‘have a very strong sense of regional pride’.

We noticed quite a different way of life in Fryslân from the rest of the Netherlands. For example, within a couple of minutes of arriving, we quite literally saw people walking around in clogs! They were just popping to the supermarket in clogs, we couldn’t believe it. It’s almost like many of the typical stereotypes you hear about the Netherlands (but don’t really apply) comes from this area.

A lot of life in Fryslân revolves around the water, as it has almost as much water as it has land! Sailing is hugely popular, as is paddleboarding, kiteboarding and canoeing. This gives Frisians a really unique perspective on life and honestly, it was refreshing!

Fun fact: Fryslân is not in Holland! Holland is totally separate province of the Netherlands and nothing to do with the rest of the country.

Things to know before you visit Fryslân

Language of Fryslân

Something which really shocked us (given the linguistic reputation of the Dutch!) was the fact that English is not commonly spoken in Fryslân at all! In fact, even Dutch is not ubiquitous. The main language in this area is Frisian (or West Frisian). It is actually the second official language of the Netherlands! We had never even heard of it before our visit! Perhaps because so many people have contested the existence of Frisian over the last two hundred years, Frisians are fiercely proud of their language.

It’s even mandatory these days in Frisian primary schools.

A canal in Fryslân at night with lots of local neighbourhood houses and a church at the end.
Fryslân at night!

Getting to Fryslân

There are a few different ways to get to Fryslân.

Train – you can easily get to the two main cities in Fryslân, Leeuwarden and Sneek, by train. The two main train companies in the Netherlands Arriva and Dutch Railways (NS) both have travel apps that are very easy to use. If you haven’t seen our guest post on getting around the Netherlands by train, read more here.

Bus – Fryslân also has great bus connections with the rest of the Netherlands. Arriva is the main bus company, but note that you need to pay with a contactless credit or debit card.

Public transport in the area is all with Arriva (bus company) and they have a good app you can download. You shouldn’t struggle without a car. A lot of people actually use boats to get around!

Car – our friends actually drove us back from Amsterdam to their house in Leeuwarden, as they were at work in Amsterdam when we arrived. It takes around 2 hours and the roads are very easy to fly.

If you need to fly internationally, the closest airports are Groningen or Amsterdam.

A drone shot of canals you will see when you visit Fryslân. You can see sailing boats on the water and lots of forest otherwise.
Fryslân from above is nearly all water!

Where to stay in Fryslân

As a great base to explore Fryslân, we’d recommend staying in the capital, Leeuwarden. As a travel agent, I always like to give recommendations of places to stay. The below are hotels I would recommend based on customer feedback and reviews. All hotels are centrally located but note: there are not really 5* or luxury hotels in Leeuwarden.

Some of the 4* hotels recommended are definitely very chic and comfortable. The 4* rating is based on facilities only. Since the traditional star rating is based on facilities, it can be difficult to climb to higher star ratings in remote regions.

Budget

Alibi Hostel – this hostel is so cool and quirky! It’s actually located in a renovated old prison in the middle of town. This would definitely be our choice for our next visit!

Midrange

De Olde Signorie – De Olde Signorie is in a super elegant historic building in the middle of Leeuwarden and has a very quaint, old town feel
In de Brouwerij – this hotel is part hotel, part brewery, and that definitely embodies the spirit of Fryslân!
Stadslogies in Leeuwarden – this is more apartment-style, very comfortable and well-located
Boutique Hotel Catshuis – this is a beautiful boutique hotel right in the historic centre and has some unique Frisian character

Midrange eco-certified

Oranje Hotel Leeuwarden – a really charming and pretty hotel just opposite the train station

If you still can’t decide, find somewhere to stay below!

A windmill in Fryslân in the Dutch countryside
It’s always cool to see windmills in the Netherlands

Things to do in Fryslân

In addition to being beautiful, Fryslân has a wealth of things to do! Here are some ideas, and for more information, check out our post on our friends Foley Exploring’s site on things to do in Fryslân.

  • Visit a National Park – there are so many in Fryslân! Our favourite was De Alde Feanan, but you can also Lauwersmeer or Schiermonnikoog
  • Visit one of the islands off the North coast, which have some extremely diverse and unique scenery
  • Check out the nightlife in one of Fryslân’s pretty cities, such as Leeuwarden or Sneek. It being the Netherlands, you can also check out a red light district or one of the many coffee shops – that’s right, Amsterdam isn’t the only city that has those!
  • Try some Frisian food. The Frisians are super proud of their food culture, so don’t miss out while you’re there. Soups are a big deal, as are traditional Dutch foods such as bitterballen, cheese and stroopwaffels
  • If you’re a drinker, don’t miss Beerenburg (also known as Bearenburch) – the predecessor to gin! It’s made by adding herbs to jenever (another old Dutch spirit) and is between 30-40% proof
  • In winter, if weather permits, you even take an ice skating tour between the 11 major cities of Fryslân! One of the most unique things we can think of to do anywhere. Unfortunately because of climate change, it’s an event under threat and has only been able to take place 5 times in the last 50 years, but if you have the chance to go, it’s absolutely worth taking.
  • Go sailing! Sailing is a huge deal in Fryslân and almost everyone we met there knew how to do it. Sailing on one of the many waterways in this area is a must

Find more things to do in Friesland:

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Life on the water

Water is a huge part of life in Fryslân. Many of the people we encountered live directly on the water, and have known how to sail since they were young children! Many of the National Parks in Fryslân are set completely on the water, and it’s even possible to sail into the town of Leeuwarden from local nearby houses and park your boat (like a car).

Of course, there’s nothing so surprising about this when you consider how much of Fryslân is water, but it was an interesting phenomenon for us, having never seen anything like this before!

A shot of steaming mustard soup. You can see mustard seeds in it.
Homemade Frisian Mosterdsoep

Food and drink in Friesland

As with everything else in Fryslân, Frisian people are super proud of their regional food and drink. Our friends actually treated us to a lot of it when we were there, including:

  • Homemade ‘mosterdsoep’ (mustard soup!). It’s basically mustard, butter, onions and leeks, and is usually served with bacon or pancetta
  • Krokets and Bitterballen – basically deep fried breaded meatballs!
  • Lots of cheese – they may love cheese even more than the rest of the Dutch. We couldn’t believe it in the supermarkets that there were entire aisles just dedicated to cheese, with massive wheels of it being the standard purchasing size!
  • Hutspot – a hot pot, with mashed potato in it!
  • Stroopwaffel – again, as in much of the Netherlands, stroopwaffel are extremely popular
  • Pannekoeken – pancakes! Need we say more

As you may have guessed, this was quite a tricky destination for me as a vegan! However, my friend was kind enough to home-make a lot of this for us and veganise it for me, so I didn’t miss out.

We also got to try the traditional Beerenburg (also know as Bearenburch) mentioned above – it was quite nice! Though it certainly is punchy, and tastes quite medicinal.

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    Post written by Emma

    Emma

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